We barely missed out the blizzard of 2009 down here in Stanly Co., NC. We got some sleet, a little snow, an inch of rain and lots and lots of puddles and mud. In spite of the drama with the weather I rode three times this week.
I got tired of warming up my bits before I ride so I dragged out my old Jumping Cavesson bridle (you can see it in my pictures, Numbers 5, 6, and 7,) and used it all week. Mia LIKES my Jumping Cavesson bridle more than any other head gear I've used on her. The minute I put it on her she relaxes and gets a more cheerful and alert look on her face. I have been using it off and on for the past 2 years, and Mia obviously had been trying to figure out how to get me to use it all the time. She finally came up with a winning game plan. She became VERY, VERY, VERY good when I rode her this week in the Jumping Cavesson.
Mia always is a good, obedient horse (except for puddles), and always tries to give me what I ask for. She accepts good contact with the bit, she obeys my hand aids immediately, and does her best in spite of her arthritis when I work on her range of motion and suppleness. No matter what head gear I use (snaffle bits, cross-under bitless, Lite Rider bitless, Jumping Cavesson) obedience to the hand is usually instant and soft. I have been happy with her improvement in responding to my aids. In spite of her problems Mia is a good mare.
This week, all of a sudden, she went WAY beyond her normal obedience. I have been working on turns of the hindquarters at a walk (no collection and keeping the 4-beat walk.) Over the months she has gotten better and better, responding readily to both bit and leg. On Wednesday, though, I got a 360 degree turn on the hindquarters, not perfect (this was the first time), but Mia cooperated smoothly and cheerfully. Later on in the ride she started giving me 180 degrees turns on the hindquarters with JUST with my leg aid, no reins. When I did the second 180 turn I sort of dropped my reins and she continued responding to my leg. I was totally surprised, I never expected this level of cooperation to my aids. Its like all of a sudden it hit her, this means turn on the hindquarters--no problems! Needless to say I did not ask for any more turns on the hindquarters, when I reach perfection it is time to quit.
Whenever I kept contact with my reins, Mia was so soft and connected that I felt like I was riding in a bit instead of with the cavesson, with almost the same contact, and with her responding to my aids as well as she does in a bit. Since the noseband of the Jumping Cavesson is 1/2 inch cotton rope covered with baghide leather, there usually is LESS control than with the bit, and it feels mushier when I give rein aids. I have been using the Jumping Cavesson bridle for over 30 years, and this is the first time I got such wonderful responses when using it. Yes, Mia likes the Jumping Cavesson, and wants me to go on using it.
On Friday, riding in the sleet, even though she was thoroughly pissed off by having to work with a winter storm coming in, Mia gave me the same contact and willing response to my rein aids. Really amazing, since Mia was not her usual calm self. As my son reminded me as he helped me get tacked up, Arabs tend to get sort of excited when snow is coming. Snow approaching, sleet pinging on her face, thoroughly pissed off at me, and she still obeyed the Jumping Cavesson just as if it was a bit.
So today I got brave and used the Jumping Cavesson on Cider, who I have nicknamed the energizer bunny. I had never dared to use anything with less authority than a cross-under bitless bridle on her as she can be hard to stop. Today I could only walk as the turf riding ring was WET, and for once I had no problems keeping her at a walk. The second time I practiced halting and standing on a loose rein, she willingly halted and actually stood still, calmly, until I told her to walk again. BIG improvement, REALLY big improvement. Again, I am amazed. Her contact was pretty good too.
These Jumping Cavesson bridles are no longer produced. It consists of the noseband and headpiece, with divided cheek pieces. I think that the divided cheek pieces work really well, since they do not rub on the horse's molars. The nosepiece is both round and wide. Since the noseband extends 2 inches below the lower cheek piece attachment the rein action is "cushioned", giving the horse warning before the rein action reaches his nose. I do not have to buckle the chin strap tightly, I always use it with two fingers clearance between the chin strap and the jaw. Mia really likes this feature, as she hates having anything tight around her nose. I really, really, REALLY wish someone would make them again, and make them in different sizes! I could not use mine for years as the leather of the original headstall had cracked, but I finally found a saddler who would make me a new headstall and restitch the leather on the noseband, and I am quite happy that I can use it again.
For an ambitious horse out on the trail or in a field I still lean more to using the cross-under bridle as it gives me more control. But in a ring, I am beginning to think that this is the best bitless option for replicating the action and feel of a bit. It amazes me that no-one makes it any more. The Jumping Cavesson noseband for sale now is really a side pull, the nosepiece does not extend down below the cheek pieces, the noseband is narrower, the chin strap needs to be buckled more tightly, and since it attaches onto a regular bridle it does not have divided cheek pieces. The old style Jumping Cavesson bridle is a very effective bitless alternative, USET member Kathy Kusner used to use one like mine on the horse Untouchable in the 1960's in international jumping competitions since he did not like bits, so it is not like nobody knew about it or used it back then!
In my older age I have found myself mourning the absence of several kinds of tack (usually bits and King of Prussia stirrups) that are no longer available since they are no longer made. The Jumping Cavesson bridle deserves to be manufactured again, it works well and its feel is the most like a bit of all the bitless options I've tried.
So until it gets warmer again Mia is probably going to get her desire. I will use my Jumping Cavesson.
Have a great ride.